I am beginning a dissertation project about the rhetorics of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from Lyme Disease. This means that I am trying to understand how arguments about Lyme Disease (especially the names, diagnostic criteria, insurance classifications, etc.) are constructed to make certain things happen in the world. One easy example of this phenomenon: the term “Chronic Lyme Disease” (CLD). The term CLD is accepted by certain clinicians and researchers and can help some health seekers access treatments, including long-term antibiotic therapy. (I should note that no studies to date have proven that this kind of therapy is more beneficial than it is harmful). However, when some health seekers use this term in front of other clinicians and researchers, their complaints are dismissed and the health seekers are diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or worse–as drug-seekers or hypochondriacs.
Lyme Disease is not the only disease that is (arguably) rhetorical,* but I have chosen it as a starting point for my project because I, too, once had a Lyme Disease diagnosis.** At first, I was reluctant to share my personal health information as part of my academic research. I am wary of the well-documented risks of disclosure in the university community. However, I want to do research and write things that will help real people–particularly chronically ill people who are suffering–and I believe that I must leverage my experiences as a point of critical access into the scholarly and popular conversations about Lyme. I’m also not sure that I can untangle these identities, so I feel that it is important to consider how these intersecting subject positions will affect my research.
I’m starting this blog to sort out my ideas, research tasks, etc., and ultimately I hope that it will serve as an example for others about how academic research and writing is/can be done. I want to demystify the nitty gritty-ness of the process for curious undergraduate students, anxious graduate students, and anyone else who might be interested. That said, my research and writing processes (or subject matter, methods, and anything else that I do) are not representative of research in rhetoric or English studies more broadly. I’m not sure that there is a “typical” or “normal” way to do research or work through various writing tasks. Instead, I want to show you all of the minuscule, meandering steps that it takes to complete a series of projects. (Since my head will explode if I think about my dissertation as one gigantic project). Showing you these steps makes me feel somewhat vulnerable, since it allows you to access my writing and thinking about my ideas long before they are neatly packaged into a dissertation proposal, peer-reviewed journal article, and/or monograph. (HAHA FUNNY JOKES. Maybe eventually I will get there).
In any case, please be generous as you read and respond to this blog. I imagine this blog to be a creative compromise between a traditional scientific lab notebook and a commonplace book. Perhaps it is more of an open ethnography or field notes. It is always incomplete, always evolving, and always moving me in a variety of directions (many rabbit holes, occasional brilliant critical interventions).
Questions? You can contact me at sasinger [at] live.unc.edu or visit my website, sarahannsinger.com.
**Like many chronically ill people, I have been assigned a variety of diagnoses from my bevy of biomedical “encounters,” but I am choosing to engage with this one for personal and professional reasons. (I was recently hospitalized for an unrelated accident and the bill referred to the incident as a “hospital encounter.” #rhetorical).